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Early unofficial tally shows about 400 unsheltered homeless in Escambia, Santa Rosa

2022 PIT Count 1.jpg
Jennie McKeon
WUWF Public Media
A volunteer at the There Is Hope Rehabilitation Living Facility completes a survey for the annual Point-In-Time survey of people who are homeless people in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

Under the pressure of next week's deadline to clear out the homeless camp under Pensacola’s I-110, the annual Point-In-Time count of homeless people was conducted this week in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

Opening Doors Northwest Florida, the continuum of care for this two-county area made their last stop to count unsheltered homeless people for the 2022 PIT count at the relatively new There is Hope Rehabilitation facility, which is located in the 3100 block of North Davis Highway in Pensacola.

“So, you’ll write their name there,” begins Caleb Houston, founder and president of the facility, as he gives a volunteer a short run down of how to navigate a short sign-in sheet when individuals come in for service.

“You’ll put lunch; if they need clothing, their size...okay, then send them all that way? To the chapel, yes ma’am.”

Houston opened There is Hope in May of 2021.

“We’re open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and what we provide is day treatment, which is showers, clothes and shoes, undergarments, hygiene products, food, things of that nature.” He explained.

Down one corridor, there’s a dining area. On this Wednesday, midday, we find a volunteer using the space to talk with a homeless client and conduct a paper survey for the PIT count.

“So far today, we’re close to 10 people” he said of the homeless counted there to that point. “So, they come out periodically throughout the day, all the way to 4 p.m. On a regular basis, we have maybe 15-20 people a day to come out to shower and get food and clothes.”

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Houston plans to soon expand his operation from just day treatment to a full-fledged shelter facility once his building is up to code. Additionally, he’s continuing to develop his Huts 4 Our Friends initiative to provide short-term housing.

This year’s PIT count of the homeless is confirming the need for such housing options and others that are coming online.

“Right now, early numbers suggest we have somewhere around 400 unsheltered, but we’re steadily getting surveys in,” declared John Johnson, executive director of Opening Doors Northwest Florida, which is overseeing the count of homeless in the Esca-Rosa area.

“We hit the Navarre area, up near Century. We covered a great deal of our community. I’m seeing a great concentration of homeless folks that have not been captured in the system that came right here from the I-110 bridge.

I-110 Homeless Camp 1.jpg
Jennie McKeon
WUWF Public Media

Johnson is referencing the camp site beneath I-110 at Hollice T. Williams Park, which the City of Pensacola plans to shut down by Monday.

“So, as you can see, the city is serious,” says Johnson, pointing to city vehicles and crew on the property. “They’re starting to move equipment in here. This place is going to have to be cleared out by the 31st.”

He added that plans are in the works to help those who want to find another place to go, “So, we’re really working on that right now, as we speak.”

While the effort to relocate the homeless campers is shifting into high gear, when this year’s Point-In-Time survey started this past Monday, Jan. 24, this site was one of the area’s homeless hot zones. Preliminary data shows about 100 from the camp will be added to the running total.

Johnson is concerned about getting people situated before Monday’s deadline.

But, he also expressed concern about the choice of some individuals not to take the survey, resulting in a count that will not be an accurate reflection of the homeless problem locally and the resources needed to address it.

“This year’s count is critical because the moratorium on evictions ended,” he said, adding that it’s also critical because of the impact of COVID and the impact that it’s had on some of the ability of local shelters to house people in need.

John Johnson.jpg
Jennie McKeon
WUWF Public Media
John Johnson, executive director of Opening Doors Northwest Florida, discussing the 2022 Point-In-Time Count, amid the fast-approaching deadline to clear out the camp beneath Pensacola's I-110.

“We have seen an unprecedented number of people that are on the streets, street corners, campsites, congregate sites. So, it’s very critical for us to understand what our homeless numbers are.”

Data on the Opening Doors website shows the number of homeless people in Escambia and Santa Rosa has rebounded since 2019’s recent low of just over 500 total – sheltered and unsheltered.

In 2020, there were 746 total. Last year’s observation count due to COVID resulted in 583 unsheltered alone.

So far, the 2022 PIT count shows a projection of about 400 unsheltered, with the official tally, including the sheltered population, to be vetted and finalized in the coming weeks. The Opening Doors report to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is due in April.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.